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The Road Warriors Return: Avellino, Tracy Make Travel Work

  • Bellows Falls shortstop and recent Woodstock Union High School graduate Dougie Avellino is greeted by assistant coach Russ Williams after the first inning of Post 37's visit to Hartford Legion at Hartford High School on Tuesday night. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Bellows Falls shortstop and recent Woodstock Union High School graduate Dougie Avellino is greeted by assistant coach Russ Williams after the first inning of Post 37's visit to Hartford Legion at Hartford High School on Tuesday night. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Bellows Falls pitcher Mike LaBeau fields a ground ball during Bellows Falls Post 37 vs. Hartford Legion baseball at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on July 1, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)

    Bellows Falls pitcher Mike LaBeau fields a ground ball during Bellows Falls Post 37 vs. Hartford Legion baseball at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on July 1, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Bellows Falls shortstop and recent Woodstock Union High School graduate Dougie Avellino is greeted by assistant coach Russ Williams after the first inning of Post 37's visit to Hartford Legion at Hartford High School on Tuesday night. (Valley News - Will Parson)
  • Bellows Falls pitcher Mike LaBeau fields a ground ball during Bellows Falls Post 37 vs. Hartford Legion baseball at Hartford High School in White River Junction, Vt., on July 1, 2014. (Valley News - Will Parson)

White River Junction — Dougie Avellino and Troy Tracy spend nearly as much time commuting to Bellows Falls as they do playing for the American Legion Post 37 baseball team. Their participation is worth every mile.

Avellino, of Woodstock, and Tunbridge’s Tracy are friends who joined Bellows Falls together at the start of last season, even though both had several more proximate posts.

By rule, Legion players must first try out for the teams closest to their homes or schools or have releases signed by those teams to play elsewhere.

Although Avellino’s previous Legion team, a Windsor-Woodstock collaborative, hasn’t had enough numbers for a full squad each of the last two summers, there are three programs — Hartford, Rutland and South Royalton — that are closer to Avellino than Bellows Falls.

Tracy, a 2013 South Royalton School graduate, previously played Legion ball for that town’s Post 51 and needed releases from the same three posts as Avellino.

While they might not be doing any favors for their odometers, both Avellino and Tracy feel their best fit is BF. They both have friends on the team and admire the style and tutelage of 25th-year Post 37 coach Bob Lockerby.

Avellino, who hit better than .500 during a four-year varsity stint with Woodstock Union High, entered Tuesday’s game at Hartford with a .448 season average while batting leadoff and playing shortstop and second base.

“I know a lot of the guys from BF, just from playing against them a lot during high school,” said Avellino, who’s bound for Boston’s Wentworth Institute of Technology and plans to try out for the Leopards next spring. “I know some of them from way back in (Cal Ripken youth league) when we were on an all-star team together.

“I also just like the culture on the team. I feel like Bellows Falls is a baseball town, and they go about playing in kind of an old-school way that I like. They’re not afraid to get dirty and make plays. There’s definitely a lot of small ball and a lot of strategy, but also a lot of fun. That’s the way baseball should be played.”

The admiration is reciprocated by Lockerby, who also coaches the varsity football and baseball teams at Bellows Falls Union High. Avellino’s production is certainly welcomed — the 18-year-old went 5-for-8 with two triples in a recent doubleheader at Rutland — and Lockerby also enjoys his locker room presence.

“He fits in very well with us here. He’s a great teammate for the other guys,” the coach said. “He’s a great player on the field. I wasn’t surprised to see him do what he did against Rutland, to be honest. But he’s not just a good player, he’s a smart player.”

Tracy, who won a Vermont Division IV state championship while starting for the Royals in 2013, is good friends with Avellino as well as Post 37 catcher Ethan Illingsworth. A Castleton State College sophomore, Tracy is playing third base and left field for Bellows Falls and having a blast.

“I just think it suits me better than the other programs in the area,” said Tracy, who travels more than an hour each way for home games. “To be honest, I wasn’t getting along with (then-Post 51 coach Mike Ballou) and I didn’t want to play there.”

Tunbridge and Royalton have a long tradition of sharing baseball talent from the youth level up, causing Lockerby to hesitate a bit when Tracy came to try out with Avellino last season.

“You hate for that to be the reason, that a kid isn’t getting along with his coach,” Lockerby said. “But I told him, ‘If it’s really that bad, OK, get the release.’ ”

Avellino and Tracy are far from the only out-of-towners on a Post 37 team that includes two students each from Vermont Academy and Springfield High, as well as one from Green Mountain Union.

Attrition is affecting the landscape of Legion baseball statewide — the Southern Division alone has seen three programs fold in recent years . Post 37 naturally becomes more competitive with more depth, but he’d much rather see an increase in programs than a decline.

“If I had it my way, every town in Vermont would have a team because it would be great for the game and the state,” he said. “At the same time, right now we definitely appreciate the other guys coming in. We have 10 guys from Bellows Falls, and we’ve got bigger programs in the south to contend with, between Brattleboro, Rutland and Lake Region. Lake Region takes kids from Mill River, Otter Valley, Fair Haven, Poultney and Proctor.”

Bellows Falls 9, Hartford 3

White River Junction — After the hosts jumped to a 3-1 lead after one inning, Mike LaBeau shut down Hartford on one hit the rest of the way for a Vermont American Legion Southern Division win at Hartford High.

LaBeau, a freshman pitcher at Castleton State, went the distance for Post 37, striking out seven and walking three. Hartford (3-5) managed just three hits off the Bellows Falls Union High graduate all evening.

Jacob Perkins walked and moved up on a Tyler Hamilton sacrifice bunt to start Hartford’s three-run first. Hunter Perkins (RBI double) and Cody Smith (RBI triple) followed, with Smith scoring on a wild pitch.

Dougie Avellino went 2-for-5 and scored a run for BF.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.